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Son by Adoption
by Jim Potter
The 1910 US Census successfully answered a major question of mine about Robert Parks. His original surname was Borchart. In the column next to the 12-year-old’s name was his relation to the head of the household, Henry P. Parks. The cursive writing said, “Son by adoption.”
I didn’t specialize in foreign languages, but Robert’s surname sounded as German as Schmidt or Schneider.
Rather than immediately search newspapers for Robert Borchart’s name, I unsuccessfully checked for Robert Borchart in the 1905 State of Kansas Census. Finding nothing, I looked backwards to the 1900 US Census, and had another question answered. “Was two-year-old Robert living with his birth parents?” Answer: “No, he wasn’t.”
I didn’t find the name Robert Borchart, instead I found Robert Brachert. The surname was spelled differently, but I knew this infant had to be “my” Robert. He was listed as an “inmate” in an institution called the “Industrial School and Hygiene Home for Friendless Persons.” The orphanage was in Marion County, directly east of McPherson County, the home of the Parks family.
Another question, “Did Robert have siblings?” was also answered. Arthur Brachert, age 4, and Willie Brachert, 1, were among the forty-nine residents listed at the Home for the Friendless.
Since Willie was a one-year-old, that meant a Borchart, Brochert, or Brachert family tragedy had occurred within the previous year of the Census, causing a monumental family crisis.
As I examined the details about the Home for the Friendless, I read the names of the children, their ages, and places of birth, when known. I was saddened by a word in the ledger that was listed repeatedly. In the columns asking the location of where the mother and father of each child was born, I read and reread, “Unknown, Unknown, Unknown.”
In this orphanage, in any orphanage, children must feel a mixture of emotions, includingg a picture of what the orphanage was like using numbers. heartache, despair, loneliness, trauma, happiness, and hope.
Since the Census records data, not emotions, I started developin a picture of what the orphanage was like using numbers.
Whether they were called inmates, residents, or children, their ages ranged from nine months to nineteen years. The average age of forty-nine children was 8.5 years; the medium age was 9.5. In the 1-5 age bracket there were twelve children; 6-10 age bracket, twenty-one; 11-15 age bracket, twelve; and 16-19 age group, there were four.
Another category I created in my examination of the orphanage was a look at the number of children who were most likely a lone adoption, versus children who may have had one, and even two siblings present with them. This was done based on the criteria of the same surnames and that the children were listed on consecutive lines on the Census page.
Besides Arthur, Robert, and Willie “Brachert,” there were three more groupings of three siblings, and five groups with two siblings. That left twenty-seven children who probably entered the institution as lone orphans.
All forty-nine children had their place of birth listed by state: Illinois, 27; Kansas, 11, Missouri, 5, Oklahoma 3, and the states of Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan with one each.
Since the orphanage was in a community of German Americans, I expected the Census to show many children being unable to speak English. I was wrong. They all spoke English (except for the infants who had their data box left blank).
The Census identified the superintendent and his wife as Enos Engle, 33, and Adella E. Engle, 32. An additional five employees lived at the institution: three farm laborers, one chief cook, and one nurse. The occupation of schoolteacher was missing, presumably because she, or he, lived elsewhere.
The children occupied their time with servant work, farm work, or attending school. Four were listed as servants (average age 16.5 years); six as farm laborers (average age 14); and twenty-seven as at school (average age 8.29). Twelve did not have an occupation listed. They were the youngest children (an average age of 3.5 years).
I wanted to know about the religion of the orphans, but that was impossible since the Census doesn’t make that personal inquiry.
Of course, I wanted to discover what had happened to the birth parents of the Borchart boys and also to learn how long the children remained in the institution before being adopted.
Before searching the newspapers, I decided to research the Home for the Friendless located outside of Hillsboro. I was developing an idea that if I understood the people who dedicated their lives to helping orphans, I might catch a glimpse of the children they mentored.
Until next time, happy researching and writing.